LAFAYETTE, LA — With 46 seconds remaining in a 6-2 drubbing at the hands of the archrival Huntsville Havoc on March 11, 2017 – a game which was quickly devolving into roughhousing and score-settling – Knoxville Ice Bears defenseman Jason Price crossed a line for the first time in his career. With one flick of the wrist, Price, the kind of blueliner one could classify as the tough-but-fair variety, turned an ordinary hockey game into an incident which would be the first in a series of unfortunate events which would crumble Knoxville’s Presidents Cup hopes.
Price, the Ice Bears’ captain, and 11-year veteran, sharply wristed the puck across the ice from the Knoxville blue line. The puck sailed into the Havoc bench, striking team trainer Jason Lopez on the side of his head. Lopez, the Havoc trainer for the past four seasons, was injured by Price’s errant puck and temporarily suffered some partial hearing loss. As a result of the dangerous and embarrassing incident, the SPHL swiftly and indefinitely suspended Price with ten games remaining in the regular season.
Update: Lopez informed The Sin Bin he is still dealing with hearing loss as a result of being struck by Price’s puck.
Earlier this week, we received word of the denial of Price’s reinstatement appeal by the league. Price has always maintained the puck sailing into the Havoc bench was unintentional. The defenseman’s body of proof over his 11-year career gives some merit to his petition. Price has never been subject to any prior disciplinary action throughout his 502-game SPHL career and has been described as a “model citizen” by his contemporaries.
The events of March 11th echoed an incident from the 2013-14 season. During a game between the Bloomington Thunder and the Peoria Rivermen, Thunder defenseman Kory Helowka launched a puck at the head of Rivermen coach Jean-Guy Trudel. Helowka was issued a five-game suspension (half of Price’s final ten games of last season) by the SPHL and Bloomington coach Brian Gratz – now with the ECHL Greenville Swamp Rabbits – resigned.
Unlike the Helowka matter, we are not entirely convinced if Price had malicious intent behind his actions. It’s also possible Price, caught up in the emotion of a night of frustration, planned on ringing a startling shot off the boards. The body of work behind Price’s long career gives credence to this theory. Ultimately, a player has to be held responsible – regardless of purpose – as to where a puck travels after it’s shot. Price’s actions on March 11th tarnishes an otherwise distinguished career.
Since the league denied Price’s reinstatement appeal, it is highly unlikely he will play at all this season. The ten-game suspension would effectively turn into 66 games, an overly harsh punishment even by today’s disciplinary standards.
The Sin Bin reached out to the Ice Bears for comment on this story, but they directed us to the SPHL. The league, which we also reached out to reach for comment, but have not heard back from as of this writing, could have extended Price’s suspension for an additional sum of games into the 2017-18 season. The punishment may have fallen in line with Columbus’ Craig Simchuk‘s 28 games for slamming Peoria goalie Kyle Rank‘s head into the goalpost in 2015 and the spear of Peoria’s Alec Hagaman in February of 2016 which suspended Louisiana’s Tyler Barr for the remainder of the season.
Unlike Price, Simchuk and Barr were allowed to continue their careers after their lengthy suspensions. The SPHL’s denial of Price’s reinstatement appeal effectively ends the Ice Bears captain’s 11-season career. Price’s actions on March 11th have no place in hockey, and if he were the kind of player who consistently had no regard for the safety of others on the ice, it would be understandable to not allow him back in the league after injuring an innocent party. However, Price’s long body of work should have mattered, and it’s unfortunate we will not have the opportunity of seeing Price have the chance at professional redemption during a farewell season. Sadly, Jason Price’s career comes to an ignominious end – and we are all the losers for it.
Stay with The Sin Bin for more on this developing story.